Chapter Seven: Finding common ground on regional security

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Fourth Plenary Session
The 16th Asia Security Summit, Singapore, 2–4 June 2017.

Fourth plenary session

Sunday 4 June 2017, 09:30

SPEAKERS

General (Retd) Ryamizard Ryacudu

Minister of Defense, Indonesia

Le Luong Minh

Secretary-General, Association of Southeast Asian Nations

General (Retd) Ricardo A David Jr

Under Secretary for Defense Policy, Philippines

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General (Retd) Ryamizard Ryacudu, Minister of Defense, Indonesia, began the first address in the session by stressing the importance of the Shangri-La Dialogue as a defence diplomacy forum in which participating countries can debate and develop solutions for common challenges to peace and stability in the region. The minister pointed to the broad spectrum of security risks and threats countries had to address, including terrorism and radicalism, separatism and armed uprising, natural disasters, border violations, robbery and theft of natural resources, disease epidemics, the drug trade and abuse of narcotics. He singled out the terrorist threat as having reached unprecedented levels in the region, with the Islamic State, also known as ISIS or ISIL, operating in the southern Philippines and elsewhere. This, the minister said, underlined the global nature of the challenge.

Ryamizard called on governments to establish more specifics and more concrete platforms for regional security and defence cooperation. He said the establishment of a Trilateral Arrangement on the Sulu Waters between Indonesia, Malaysia and the Philippines was a good example of what he had in mind. Initially the objective of the Arrangement was limited to fighting piracy, but the scope is being expanded to include the fight against the Islamic State, also known as ISIS or ISIL, in the region. The minister suggested that the trilateral cooperation could be extended to include other countries, such as Thailand and Singapore. Maritime domain awareness and coordinated patrols would furthermore provide good opportunities for capacity-building programs, possibly involving countries from outside the region.

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Le Luong Minh, Secretary-General of the Association of Southeast Asian Nations (ASEAN), began by recalling that on 8 August 1967, the founding fathers of ASEAN signed the Bangkok Declaration with the common understanding that economic growth and prosperity could not be achieved unless the region was stable and at peace. It had to be acknowledged, Minh suggested, that both traditional and non-traditional security challenges continued to put this vision at risk. North Korea’s nuclear programme, territorial disputes, transnational crime and international terrorism were particular concerns.

ASEAN has endeavoured to set up cooperative mechanisms to help address these challenges, Minh said: complex and multifaceted security challenges compelled countries to work together. Cooperating on transnational issues in a collaborative fashion required countries to adjust their perspectives. ASEAN-led security mechanisms, said the Secretary-General, progressed beyond table-top discussions to practical activities. For example, the 18 countries involved in the ASEAN Defence Ministers’ Meetings-Plus (ADMM-Plus) conduct live exercises on counter-terrorism, maritime security, and humanitarian assistance and disaster relief. Minh closed by highlighting competition between major powers in the region as a growing concern for regional peace and stability.

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General (Retd) Ricardo A David, Jr, the Philippines’ Under Secretary for Defense Policy, agreed that transnational security challenges were in some cases indeed strong drivers for cooperation. However, he suggested that there were also issues on which governments in the region had fundamentally different views. Piracy, disasters, transnational crime, cyber security, and terrorism and violent extremism were examples of the former, he said. Territorial and maritime disputes, including in the South China Sea, were examples of the latter, David explained, and different interpretations of international law made it difficult to move forward. The situation on the Korean Peninsula was also characterised by diverging views, as North Korea insisted it had a right to possess nuclear weapons whereas other countries in the region felt their security is put at risk as a result.

David suggested that cooperation among countries should be pursued based on international law, respect for the sovereignty of other states, sustained dialogue and coordination. For this approach to work, governments would need to recognise, he argued, that the need for cooperation outweighs competition among regional powers. The Under Secretary insisted that the Philippines see its alliance with the United States (US) as a cornerstone of its defence policy. At the same time, he pointed out, the Philippines had recently been able to improve its defence relations with China, and had also begun working with Russia. The Philippines was ready to build on existing partnerships as well as explore new ones.

QUESTIONS AND ANSWERS

The three statements triggered a lively question-and-answer session. Aiko Doden from NHK Japan Broadcasting Cooperation asked whether the panellists had thought about ‘soft’ human security challenges that might evolve into hard security issues and whether there were disparities of views in the region on such matters. Ben Bland, South China Correspondent for the Financial Times, asked how concerned the panellists were about radicalism in Indonesia. Lin Liu of China’s Academy of Military Science, People’s Liberation Army asked what could be done to enhance cooperation between ASEAN and China and whether the Philippines would invite China to join maritime patrols of the Sulu Sea. Prashanth Parameswaran from the Diplomat enquired whether David could expand on the additional opportunities that the Philippines sees for defence cooperation with partners other than the US. David Shambaugh, Director, China Policy Program, George Washington University, wanted to know whether negotiations on the framework agreement for a code of conduct in the South China Sea included discussion of caps on military deployments and military installations on features there, and whether such caps could perhaps be seen as confidence-building measures in what otherwise looks like an increasingly militarised environment. Ekaterina Koldunova, Deputy Dean, School of Political Affairs, Moscow State Institute of International Relations, asked whether the panel saw any prospects for ASEAN–Russia cooperation on counter-terrorism. Jin Kiat Khoo, Senior Reporter, Defence and Diplomatic Affairs, the China Press, Malaysia, asked the Indonesian minister whether he could provide further information on reported clashes between Vietnamese and Indonesian patrol boats around the Natuna Islands. Sylvia Yazid from Parahyangan Catholic University, Indonesia, expressed hope that Indonesia would be a strategic partner for other countries battling international terrorism. Sylvie Kauffmann, Editorial Director, Le Monde, asked whether the panellists could speak about the level of coordination among different extremist groups and whether there were signs of coordination in the region with foreign fighters from the Middle East and Europe.

David responded by explaining that there were currently no plans for inviting other countries to join maritime patrols in the Sulu Sea. He also stressed that the Philippines’ defence cooperation efforts were not designed to form military blocs. On the threat from terrorism and violent extremism in the southern Philippines, David suggested that citizens not only Malaysia and Indonesia, but also of Saudi Arabia, were among recent perpetrators. These foreign fighters were operating alongside locals. Economic, social and political solutions would be necessary to remove some of the drivers of violent extremism. Minh stressed that it was important to evaluate and monitor the implementation of new measures being taken under ASEAN’s lead – it was important to know whether the intended outcomes were being achieved. The ‘framework agreement’ for a code of conduct in the South China Sea was currently only a draft that needed to be endorsed by ministers, but Minh hoped that it could be the nucleus for a rules-based approach to the issue. Ryamizard stressed that the number of security challenges in the region that demanded cooperation was rising and that securing the region was what cooperation in an ASEAN framework was meant to achieve. However, ASEAN was not a military bloc, he said. Regarding extremism and international terrorism, the Indonesian minister stressed that the starting point had to be better cooperation over intelligence. He cited working with Singapore to ascertain the passport details and addresses of extremists as an important element in recent efforts to uncover extremist structures and networks. Governments had to formulate a comprehensive response and should work together to develop a shared understanding of how best to counter the extremist threat, he said.

Aiko Doden, NHK Japan Broadcasting Cooperation Ben Bland, South China Correspondent, the Financial Times Lin Liu, Academy of Military Science, People’s Liberation Army, China
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Prashanth Parameswaran, The Diplomat David Shambaugh, Director, China Policy Program, George Washington University Ekaterina Koldunova, Deputy Dean, School of Political Affairs, Moscow State Institute of International Relations
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Jin Kiat Khoo, Senior Reporter, Defence and Diplomatic Affairs, The China Press, Malaysia Sylvia Yazid, Parahyangan Catholic University, Indonesia Sylvie Kauffmann, Editorial Director, Le Monde
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